24 Nov 03. BATTLESPACE Editor visited Plextek at their Headquarters to see their latest military product, the PV Battlefield Light-weight E-scan Radar (BLightER) radar in action. Briefed by Liam Devlin BATTLESPAE Editor Julian Nettlefold was told that the Private Venture radar was developed from activities the company were undertaking in the mobile phone arena. This was very reminiscent of the Mars Marine radar developed using techniques for chocolate vending machines!
The design emphasis has focused on the capability that the radar can offer given standard system components rather than trying to design custom system components to achieve a certain performance. Conventional phased-array radars have elaborate and expensive active antenna structures to provide electronic beam steering. Using knowledge gained from the latest mobile telephone base station designs, the BLightER antenna is a complex to design, yet cheap to manufacture, printed antenna structure. The lack of active components allows antennas to be fabricated without the need for complex calibration functions. The simplicity also improves reliability and robustness. The cost of this unit as it stands is a staggering £50,000, compared to $250,000 for a Thales MSTAR unit. Plextek admit that the system needs refinement to tune it into a ruggedized military product, but the weight and simplicity of use make this ideal for such applications as remote sensing for FRES and FCS applications.
The BLightER base unit contains almost a complete radar – Antenna, Tx, Rx, synthesiser, mixers, signal and data processing, power supply and a wireless data link. To provide the external user interface, the BLightER base unit hosts a web server with live processed radar information and control dialogue. This is linked by wireless, IEEE802.11, to standard commercial laptops and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant). The PDA or laptop simply uses its in-built web browser to view the ‘web page’. In practice, an application is downloaded via the internet link from the BLightER base unit to offer the appropriate interface for the particular handheld unit. Multiple users can view the radar or other sensor data, with authorised users having control of radar modes and active search sectors. The static electronic scan antenna offers great flexibility for optimising the radar mode for individual sectors and for allowing power management by snoozing between scans. This system has a number of benefits, most notably that the unit or units can be controlled remotely via the web in mountainous or desert terrain. The system also allows for multiple unite to be linked giving continuous border and battlefield protection and surveillance. The remote Web-based operation also protects the operator who currently has to be near the antennae with systems such as MSTAR. The range of 5kms is exceptional for such a unit
Although BLightER’s primary function is radar, other sensors can be included in or attached to the base unit to provide the users with greater situational awareness. An excellent example is the inclusion of a video camera to verify or confirm the detections being made on the radar. As a standard low-cost sensor the ubiquitous web cam is an obvious candidate, and for users requiring better resolution or night-time sensitivity, then alternative, more costly sensors could be included. BLightER is a prime example of military products developed using high technology for civil applications at a fraction of the cost and time usually required for such developments.
In another meeting with Avaya, Iain Robinson told BATTLESPACE that more dialogue was needed between the MoD and companies such as Avaya whose development cycle is in quarters not years. He suggested that the time scale in product development could be cut if MoD’s decided on shortened product development cycles. This was echoed by Plextek who said that in such long development cycles there was a danger that a number of components use din s